Test Drive: 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit

It’s said, “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

The Summit allows you to maintain maximum chillaxification at all times.

That’s an appropriate quote when considering the premise of the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit – a flagship-level SUV offering from Jeep that’s built for actual off-road use. Like, for serious.

Usually, you buy a luxury SUV because everyone else does, or because a sedan is too small but you’re a bit “meh” on wagons, or because you need to tackle the odd rough cottage trail, or slippery sideroad. Mostly, luxury SUVs aren’t used for exploring, to climb things, or to slog through mud and dirt. And so, owning one is sort of like having a boat, but leaving it on shore where it’s safe.

And so, for the shopper who will take their boat (or posh-ute) away from shore (and into the trails), the Grand Cherokee Summit is a tempting idea. It’s a rare thing – a top-of-the-line SUV that’s built to go places and climb stuff.

Here’s the sticky: in Summit grade, the tester started at about $68,000, and a few grand worth of optional tack-ons jacked that figure to the better part of $80,000. Holy!

Think that’s excessive for a Jeep Grand Cherokee? You’re not alone. Hell, I nearly collapsed into a quivering heap when I saw the tester’s build sheet and as-tested price. Still, sales are up, and these things are moving – and if you look in a bit more detail, you start to see why.

Despite that under its skin the tester is a big-buck version of what’s (largely) a brand-new seven-year-old vehicle, it’s worth noting that even a “basic” Summit sits in the same pricing ballpark as, for instance, a less-powerful and (far) lesser-equipped BMW X5. For the money, the Jeep packs heaps of standard kit that you’d have to add, at considerable extra cost, to the luxury-branded posh-ute of your choice.

Equipped, trimmed, and powered similarly to this tester, any number of big-buck competitors would see pricing much closer to six-figure territory, and virtually none offer the same level of off-road hardware. For a blend of flagship-level features, luxury, and equipment, and also serious off-road capability, this top-dog Grand Cherokee virtually stands alone (though I’d advise you also check out the new Land Rover Discovery, if you’re in this ballpark).

There are two sides to the Grand Cherokee Summit.

The first is the luxury side. Open the door, and a smorgasbord of quilted premium leathers, chrome trim, wood accenting, and fine stitching is revealed. The tester’s extended leather interior saw creamy hides lining the entire door panels, centre console tunnel, and the entirety of the dash. Usually, when there’s this much leather near you, you’re in Leon’s, about to drop three grand on a fancy sofa (or at a special sort of grown-up get-together that I can’t really talk about). [The first rule of Furniture Club…. –Ed.]

On design and materials selection, the Grand Cherokee Summit mostly pulls off the look and feel you’ll expect in a machine with this lofty a price, even if a few too many of the switches, controls, and interfaces on board are identical to the ones you’ll find in base-model units at half the price.

But by and large, the luxury is convincing. Right to the very edge of the cargo hold, itself trimmed with metal accenting and premium carpeting, the interior cashes the cheques written by the tester’s sticker price.

There’s even active noise control, which uses white noise and inverted-phase sound waves to keep background sounds from the wind and tires to a minimum. End result? A quiet and relaxing driving environment that’s gorgeously trimmed.

The other side of the Grand Cherokee Summit is its confident delivery of top-notch off-road capability.

Need more ground clearance? Click a button, and the air suspension lifts the body up high over the big wheels, reducing the likelihood of remodeling your oil-pan on a tree-stump or boulder. Got some heavy mud, rocks, or deep snow between you and your destination? Just flick the SelecTerrain dial into the appropriate setting, and various systems are re-jiggered for maximum extraction of traction from the specific surface beneath.

Downhill assist can be engaged with a tap, should a steep descent be in order. Use the paddle-shifters to set your desired speed to as low as 1 km/h, and the transmission, brakes, and throttle are operated to maintain that speed, even down steep and slippery grades, almost no matter what. It’s like off-road cruise control for really, really steep hills, and since it handles the throttle and brakes, all you have to do is steer, and relax, and sip your coffee, and chill.

There are also skid plates to protect Summit’s vital organs, and should you find a way to run out of ground clearance, it’s steel plating versus branches and muck and rocks.

There’s even a proper transfer case with low-range gearing, which is ultra-rare in this segment. Left to its own, the transfer case works like an AWD system – seamless, with no decision-making required. Low-range can be engaged when more pulling power, traction, or climbing force is needed – or for pulling that boat up a steep launch ramp. With low-range gearing accessible in about four seconds, the answer to “Hmm, can I climb that?” is almost always “Oh hell, yes.”

In all, the Grand Cherokee Summit sees equal parts luxury and capability co-existing peacefully. This generates an interesting environment for the driver on the road less travelled: with clearance and traction to spare, and an electronic toolkit designed to further boost and fine-tune capability, the Summit does an excellent job of encouraging drivers to sit back, relax, take it slow, and let the machine handle the hard work, even on the nastiest trails.

In off-road conditions beyond what most folks will subject their own vehicle to, the tester never left your writer wanting for more traction, clearance, or capability. In its own unique way, the Summit allows you to maintain maximum chillaxification at all times, whether you’re on the highway or slogging through a new trail.

A few notables.

First, ride quality is slightly harsher than some will expect on an air-suspension-equipped vehicle. On smooth highways, the suspension feels dense and durable, and body motions are well controlled as the Summit glides along. On rougher surfaces, the ride can degrade into a degree of jagged harshness, largely thanks to the tester’s big wheels and thin tires. It’s mostly comfortable, most of the time, but never quite feels like it’s floating on a cloud.

At speed, steering is thick and heavy, helping the Summit lock onto its lane. At low speeds, the steering is feather-light, allowing one-finger manipulation of the vehicle’s position. This is easiest to appreciate after a few hours of off-road driving, as there’s so little effort required to flick the Summit around obstacles.

Off-road ride quality is good, too. Notably, even climbing over ruts that leave multiple wheels airborne, there’s no creaking or clicking from the body. On severe surfaces, the suspension can become noisy, even a little rough, and especially when the ride height is lifted. Mostly, it feels durable and in its element on the trails. Ultimately, this is a big, solid machine, and that’s largely how it feels.

A big solid machine needs a big solid engine – like the 5.7-litre HEMI V8, with 360 hp. Driven gently, it’s virtually inaudible, and typically moves through traffic using fewer than 2,000 revs. Pushed harder, it’s an old-school traditional V8 soundtrack that calls a Hollywood car-chase to mind. Overall output is meaty and robust, not overwhelming.

On my test drive, the tester put away 12.8 L/100 km. That’s a touch thriftier than I expected, even if numerous more-modern engines crank out far bigger low-rev torque figures using similar amounts of fuel.

But as a big, simple, and effective V8 engine that Chrysler has built trillions of, the HEMI is an engine you can live with, past its warranty period, without being horrified for your bank account.

Typical Grand Cherokee functionality abounds – with plenty of room for four adults, five in a pinch, decent rear-seat legroom, and a wide, flat cargo area with fully flat-folding seats to enhance flexibility.

A few gripes. Aside from a few dated cabin elements that look too low-budget set against the Summit’s leather-lined swankiness, the brakes and headlights disappointed. Brakes felt numb and gooey when applied gently, and need a good heavy stomp to get the Summit stationary in any sort of hurry. Stopping power feels adequate, but the pedal inspires little confidence: you’ve really got to drill the bejesus out of it to pull down from speed, fast.

Headlights left me wanting, too. The spread, saturation and peripheral coverage of the forward illumination are all bang on, but I wished there was about 20 percent more brightness from the system, which would put it on par with many competitors in this pricing ballpark. The headlights are okay, but for the money, I was expecting “fantastic”. If headlights are a thing for you, the Volvo XC90, Cadillac XT5 and Land Rover Discovery are top-notch, according to my notes.

All said, shoppers after flagship-level power, luxury, and feature content, backed by serious off-road capability – and all for about the same price as a fairly basic European SUV – can consider the Grand Cherokee Summit a must-drive for the money.

2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit
Engine Displacement: 5.7L
Engine Cylinders: V8
Peak Horsepower: 360 hp @ 5,150 rpm
Peak Torque: 390 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm
Fuel Economy: 16.7/10.7/14.0 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 1,028/1,934 L seats down
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit
Base Price $68,495
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $79,525
Optional Equipment $9,135 – Granite Paint $195; Skid Plates $300; Rear DVD consoles $2,150; Platinum Appearance Group $1,495; Leather-Wrapped interior package $4,995
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.1
9 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
9 Features
8 Value